Drums, Mysticism and Chanukah Light
Upon hearing about our drumming event last night, a friend asked me (in Yiddish): “Vos, bistu mishuge gevoren (did you go crazy)? What’s this thing about drumming? Why don’t you stick to traditional teaching and writing?
For those of you that may not be aware of what I am talking about, last night, December 24th, the sixth night of Chanukah, our organization hosted a unique Chanukah event called The Sound of Light: Interactive Drumming, Music and Mysticism. It featured African drumming, mystical teachings, song and menorah lighting. It was a highly interactive experience, in which everyone attending drummed together and participated in a true celebration of spirit.
So, what indeed is this drumming thing?
The short answer is this: We are living in a time of religious crisis. For many people, the religious experience in general, and Judaism in particular, is divorced of personal relevance. It simply does not speak to many people’s hearts and souls, does not address their most intimate issues. When dealing with personal and psychological challenges, even devout people do not necessarily know how to find answers in religious texts. Thus, the large vacuum that inevitably results in the search for spirituality outside of one’s religious tradition.
The situation has only been exacerbated by the onset of the information age and the technological revolution. Serious competition exists today to capture our minds and hearts. We are under a constant barrage of information coming from the media, television, the Internet and every company’s marketing strategy, all demanding our attention and inundating us with promises of youth, wealth and pleasure. The entertainment industry, clubs, galleries, museums, theatres, including high-quality programs in music and the arts, have in some ways become the temples of our times. It’s nothing less than an onslaught, an attack on our psyches. Under these circumstances, even healthy religion would be hard pressed to get our attention. How much more so when faced with irrelevant – or even negative – religious experience: It simply cannot compete with all the “products” beckoning us.
What is necessary is not to create a new religion, but to find innovative ways to access and excavate the deeper resources of tradition – to uncover its profound, personalized spirituality. We need today nothing less than a revolution in the religious experience.
One way to do this is to find ways to bridge people’s current life experiences and spirituality. We need to build upon points of reference, and demonstrate to people how G-d can be found not just in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, but also in music, art, science, business, and… drumming.
Hence, last night’s drumming event, which concluded our five-part series, The Sound of Light, exploring the metaphysics of light, and its parallels in physics, psychology and mysticism, all applied in our personal relationships.
When I was first introduced to the idea of drumming, I initially rejected it in my mind. But then I thought to myself: Hey, why don’t you experiment and see what it’s about. To my surprise, the primal sounds elicited a profound resonance of rhythm that paralleled so many ideas in Jewish mysticism that I had studied. Chassidic teachings discuss the rhythm of existence – the dual pulsating energy called “rotzo and shuv.” Existence is essentially Divine breath, which is constantly recreating existence in a cosmic dance that is continuously inhaling and exhaling.
Our heartbeat too reflects the cosmic expansion and contraction that pumps energy into the arteries of life. Everything alive, everything that exists, is a dynamic flow traveling back and forth.
And then I remembered the poignant words of the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak: “We must listen to the lichtelech” (the flames, lovingly called “lichtlelech,” flame’elech). What better way to listen to the sound of the light than to actually combine it with the sounds of drums and songs.
And so, on the sixth night of Chanukah I had the honor to see the light of sound emanating from the synergy of over a hundred and fifty people beating on drums.
We then lit the Chanukah menorah, and experienced the sound of light – we were able to listen to the lichtelech. The flames tell a story – first and foremost: the story of our own restless lives. The story of yearning and returning, of tension and resolution, of dreams and realism, of a transcendent soul in search of grounding.
So, though the world of the spirit transcends the senses, today more than ever we must learn to bridge the sensory world – our over-stimulated sensory world – with the supersensory. We must use our eyes and ears to see and listen to things that defy the eye and the ear. To help us along we reach into a place in the soul where the two intersect and you can actually hear the sights and see the sounds.
Whenever you experience true love, true unity, all the senses melt into one seamless whole, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, all fuse into one all encompassing experience. Like a child in its mother’s womb, all the child hears for nine consecutive months is its mother’s heartbeat. But it’s not just a sound; it’s a womblike all-encompassing experience.
This experience was somewhat recreated when we sang maos tzur and haneiroit halolu, to the beat of the drums. The flickering flames, the yearn and return rhythm of Chassidic melodies, was echoed in the call and response of the speaking drums. As I think back to the magic of the evening, I realized that these parallels all fed into each other, and fed us all in one glorious Chanukah celebration.
As a finale, our assistant dean, and acclaimed songwriter-pianist, Phillip Namanworth, graced us with several original Chanukah compositions, including a brand new hip-hoppish song inspired by the rotzo and shuv-give and take, written specifically for this event, ‘Trying to Get The Balance Right.’
As we stand at the close of Chanukah 2003, it behooves each of us to listen to the flames. To listen to the sound emitted by light. Each soul also has its own hum. To help achieve this, sing a song, drum a beat – through the tune of music and the drumbeat you may be able to hear the sound of your soul and the deeper sound of the flames.
Learning how to speak to yourself in a new way can then help you speak with and listen to others in new ways, accessing the power of “rotzo and shuv” – the dual pulsating forces that contain the secret of a balanced life.
Each of our souls ticks to a perfect rhythm. A newborn child is aligned with the soul’s inner rhythm. Material life, with all its distractions, throws our rhythm out of sync.
All our lives, all our seeking, all our aspirations and ambitions, are searching to realign ourselves to our inner rhythm
Chanukah light has another primary theme: Its ability to illuminate darkness. The miracle consisted of finding pure oil and rededicating the Temple after the Greeks had defiled the Temple and its oil. We light the menorah after sundown, facing the street, in order to illuminate the night and the world outside.
As such, our weekly workshops (and the articles in this space) for the month of January/Tevet will explore The Sound of Darkness, how to uncover the deeper light within the shadows of our lives (see details below).
Drums, music, art, physics – spirituality and mysticism. The list goes on. They are all one world, driven by one driving Divine force.
Judaism offers us infinitely rich resources to understand ourselves and the role we play in the universe. We need not look for new and original “systems.”
After a lifetime of work a professor presented his grand theory to the academy of the wise, eagerly awaiting his peers approval. After a few weeks the academy gave him their mark: “Your paper,” they said, “is both good and original.” The professor was elated. But before he could celebrate they continued, “the problem is this: the part that’s good is not original; and the part that’s original is not good.”
Truth is never new. Musical notes always remain the same. The ways we discover truth may be new, we play the musical notes in infinitely new combinations, but truth itself is by definition timeless and eternal.
The call of our times is not to create new musical notes, but to learn how play the original ones in creative ways that allow us to relate to them and integrate them into our lives.
We here at the Meaningful Life Center are dedicated to this calling: Our goal is to help people integrate spirituality in innovative ways that excite both the senses and the soul.
Blessings for an illuminating Chanukah, one that illuminates your entire life.
January/Tevet at the Meaningful Life Center
THE SOUND OF DARKNESS
In the month of December/Kislev we explored the nature of light and its affect in our lives. Next month join us as we excavate the metaphysics of darkness and uncover the deeper light within.
From light to… darkness to… deeper light
We all have dark areas in our lives – moments of loneliness and fear, times when we just feel that there is no hope, lurking shadows in our psyche. What role do these forces play? What is their true nature? Above all, how can we overcome their threatening presence, and transform them into positive energy?
Did you know ..
that darkness is really another form of light?
Learn how to access that light revealed to us by ancient mystics. Explore new ways to view the shadows of your life, and transform darkness into opportunity.
Did you know..
that there are two types of darkness?
These two dimensions exist in the darker recesses of our unconscious. Discover the two levels of darkness, and how they are reflected in our daily experiences.
Did you know..
that darkness contains enormous energy?
Like a black hole, darkness is a powerful force that is trapped in its own confines.
Access the power of the night and Free this enormous energy.